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The glass becomes liquid and ripples, absorbing my hand. I jerk back, and the key falls against my chest, suspended on its chain. I hold my fingers up. They look the same as always . . . completely unaffected. They’re not even wet.
A crackling sound snaps my attention back to the mirror. The splintered glass begins to smooth, forming a watery window instead of a reflection. It’s a portal that opens into the garden bright with sunlight and flowers where the statue sundial waits.
“Want it with all your heart.” The command swims in my head, so quiet it’s an echo from my past. “Then step inside.”
I have a moment of lucidity. If I’m about to be magically sucked into London, I need a way home. I snag my pencil box of money and drop it into the backpack. I shove the flashlight in, too. Who knows how dark the rabbit hole might be?
I step forward and let both of my hands sink into the liquid glass up to my elbows. On the other side, a cool breeze meets my arms. Someone strokes my skin, from my elbow down to the wrist . . . fingertips so soft and knowing, they light a firestorm inside my veins.
It’s a touch I already know, yet so different now. No longer innocent and calming.
When I look into the portal, my gloved hands appear in the landscape beyond, casting shadows on the grass next to the guy’s winged silhouette.
Before I can see him clearly, he’s gone.
I hesitate and think of Jeb. It’s almost as if I hear his voice calling out for me from somewhere far away. I wish he was here, right now, stepping in with me.
But I can’t look back. As deranged as it seems, that guy in the mirror is the answer to everything in my past. This is my one chance to find Wonderland, to cleanse the Liddell bloodline of this curse, and to save Alison. If I can do this, I can finally be normal. Maybe normal enough to tell Jeb the way I really feel about things.
Taking a breath, I plunge inside.
I spin in a haze of greens, blues, and whites, my perceptions unraveling like a roll of gauze. A prickly sensation sweeps in—tiny needles weaving me together once more. I fall backward onto the ground and wait with eyes clenched shut, backpack pushing into my spine.
The wooziness passes, and the scent of moist soil and fresh air drifts over me. I blink at a bright sun and blue sky. Weird. If I’m in England, it should still be early morning here . . . way before dawn. Somehow, I arrived at the same time as the picture in the brochure—the time I envisioned. Blades of grass prickle through my gloves as I push my weight onto my palms to sit up. The sundial statue boy waits a few feet away.
Behind me is a fountain, the water flowing down mirrored panels as tall as I am. They must be the other side of the portal I stepped through, because my hair and clothes are damp. A spiked, wroughtiron fence casts shadows across the garden.
I stand, drop my backpack to the ground, and brush speckles of mud from my skirt and tights.
The birds chirping and white noise from the flowers and insects sound real. The breeze shaking the leaves overhead feels real. The fragrance of white roses from a bush on the other side of the statue smells real. All my senses tell me this isn’t a delusion.
My imagination couldn’t conjure hands like my guide’s—or the song he lit in my memory. A song for which the words escape me, but in some way define me. The melody brings back feelings of comfort and security—like an old lullaby.
I concentrate on the white noise. A distinct whisper spins through my ears.
Find the rabbit hole . . .
The breeze coaxes a soft fragrance my way. It’s the roses talking.
I drop to my knees and crawl toward the sundial statue, parting the grass as I go. There must be a hole or a metal lid—something that could hide a tunnel.
An ornate rock border and a ground cover of ivy surround the statue’s large platform. I start digging through the leaves. White noise erupts as I upset the sacred dwellings of spiders, beetles, and flying insects. Some scatter beneath my fingers; others light into the air. Their whispers cling like static, leading me.
With the touch of a feather, you can enter the nether.
I scramble to my feet, then step into the ivy, giving the statue a push. It doesn’t budge.
The time must be right, or you’ll be here all night.
Time. I try to recall the “’Twas brillig” poem definitions. Wasn’t four o’clock mentioned? According to the sundial’s shadow, it’s a little past five. Maybe I have to turn back the clock somehow.
I try to force the gnomon shaft to a new position so its shadow will fall on the Roman numeral IV. It doesn’t budge, either. Maybe the statue just has to think it’s four.
I dig through the backpack, dragging out the feather quill I pulled from my dad’s recliner. “With the touch of a feather . . .” I center the plume over the dial and move it until it casts a shadow pointing to the IV. Then I tuck the quill into a crevice to hold it in place. The sundial still reads five o’clock, too, but I’m hoping my improvisation is enough to do the trick.
A series of clicks and clatters emerges from inside the statue’s base, like latches being opened. Heart racing, I wedge my shoulder against the stone boy’s arms. With my heels rooted into the ivy, I use my legs to push and strain against the stone.
Rock grates along metal, and the statue tips over on its base. A poof of dust belches, then clears, revealing a hole the size of a well.
I drop to my knees. Inside the backpack, I push things around to find my flashlight. Flipping it on, I search the depths below. No bottom in sight. I can’t dive headfirst into some tunnel if I can’t see where it ends.
An overwhelming sense of loneliness and panic wraps around me. I’m not a fan of heights—the very reason I haven’t mastered an ollie in skateboarding yet. I love the thrill of the ride, but freefalling has never been my idea of fun. I once went rappelling in a canyon with Jeb and Jenara. The climbing up wasn’t so bad, but Jeb had to piggyback me the entire way down while I kept my eyes shut.
Again, I find myself wishing he was here.
I sit up. That stirring pressure inside me comes to life . . . it assures me I’m ready for this.